One of my favorite recipes is Stovetop Pork Carnitas (updated and renamed in Well Fed as Citrus Carnitas). It requires very little effort, but makes...Read More
Paleo Caesar Salad
In each issue of Paleo Magazine, I share the history of a traditional recipe and adapt it to fit into a healthier paleo lifestyle. For the July issue, I explored the disputed but entertaining story of this classic bowl of greens.
To understand the story of the Caesar Salad, travel back in time to Prohibition-era California — warm sun and empty cocktail glasses. Then imagine the rollicking good time to be had just across the border in Tijuana, Mexico, where Prohibition was merely a foreign word. That’s where Caesar Cardini, an Italian chef who landed in San Diego after World War I, opened his restaurant. It was called Caesar’s Palace.
According to lore, on July 4, 1924, the restaurant had a rush of customers — patriotic revelers who wanted to celebrate Independence Day and enjoy an adult beverage, perhaps? On the brink of running out of food for his hungry clientele, Caesar tossed together a salad with what he had available: romaine lettuce, coddled eggs, and olive oil. The original salad was served with the leaves whole, stems facing out, with the ingredients piled in the middle, so customers could eat the salad with their fingers, using the leaves as scoops. It was often prepared table side with flair by Caesar himself, the dressing mixed from fresh ingredients right before the diners’ hungry eyes.
But Caesar’s brother Alex has another version of the tale, and his account has all the charm of a screwball comedy from Hollywood’s golden age. After a long night of drinking, as the story goes, a troupe of pilots missed their curfew and spent the night at Caesar’s Palace. The next morning, Alex made them what he dubbed an “Aviator’s Salad” for breakfast — putting his own spin on the recipe with anchovies —before sending them on their way. That recipe evolved and eventually came to be known as a Caesar Salad, in honor of the restaurant where it originated.
Whichever story you choose to believe, there’s no denying that the combination of briny anchovy, pungent garlic, tangy lemon, and smooth olive oil — plus crunchy croutons — is a luscious combination. It’s infiltrated American pop culture. The salad was immortalized in an episode of the TV show Bewitched, in which the witchy Esmeralda summoned Julius Caesar to help Samantha prepare the salad. And a Lucille Ball/Desi Arnez movie called The Long Long Trailer had poor Lucy trying to make the salad in a moving Airstream trailer; hilarity ensued. (You can watch Lucy online here!)
It’s said that Julia Child dined at Caesar’s Palace when she was a child in the 1920s and enjoyed a salad made by Caesar Cardini himself which inspired her to include the recipe in her own cookbook decades later. And in 1956, the chefs of the International Society of Epicures in Paris named the Caesar Salad “the greatest recipe to originate from the Americas in 50 years.”
My adaptation of the salad keeps the paleo-friendly dressing ingredients: eggs, olive oil, anchovies, garlic — and replaces the croutons with a homemade version made from yucca root so they’re grain and nut free. Don’t shy away from the anchovies in this recipe; they add the umami that gives the Caesar its classic flavor.
Serves 6 | Whole30 compliant (without croutons)
1 1/2 pounds yucca root
2 large eggs, separated into whites and yolks
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 tablespoons ghee or coconut oil, melted
1/2 tablespoon dried parsley flakes
2 cloves garlic
2 large egg yolks
1 (2 ounce) can anchovy fillets (packed in olive oil)
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons plus 1/2 cup light-tasting olive oil
3 romaine hearts, roughly torn
salt and black pepper
Preheat the oven to 350F. Cover a large baking sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil and brush with a little olive oil.
Make the croutons.
Peel the yucca and chop into 2-inch chunks, removing the stringy bit that runs through the middle of the root. Place the yucca in a food processor and purée, scraping down the sides a few times, until it forms a fine, smooth paste. Place in a large mixing bowl.
In a medium bowl, whisk the egg whites, cream of tartar, baking soda, and 1/2 teaspoon salt until the whites are frothy. Pour into the bowl with the yucca and gently fold the whites into the yucca with a rubber scraper until just combined.
Use the rubber scraper to spread the yucca on the prepared pan. Spread the “dough” about 1/4 inch thick to cover the whole pan. Bake for 15-20 minutes until the edges begin to brown and the top looks dry and crackly. Set aside until cool to the touch, then flip over and peel off the parchment paper; return the paper to the baking sheet and increase the oven temp to 400F. Cut the yucca into 1/2-inch cubes.
In a large bowl, whisk the melted ghee, parsley flakes, and 1 clove crushed garlic, then add the yucca cubes, tossing until coated. Spread the croutons in a single layer on the baking sheet and return to the oven. Bake until brown and crisp, 15-25 minutes. Set aside. (They get even crispier as they cool.)
Make the dressing & salad.
Place the anchovies, 1 clove peeled garlic, lemon juice, Dijon mustard, egg yolks, and the oil in an 16-ounce Ball jar. Blend with a stick blender until thickened and set aside.
Place the romaine leaves in a large mixing bowl; add dressing and croutons. Toss gently to combine, then taste and add more salt and pepper, if necessary. The croutons are best eaten on the same day; the dressing can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.